Stuff we don’t do any more
Drinking at lunchtime, using a bureau de change, writing a letter and using a phone box were everyday activities 20 years ago. What’s it like living as an Irishman from the not-so-distant past?
Wherever he lays his hat: Patrick Freyne with his lunchtime pint – and camera, letter and rupiahs – at Mulligans. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
‘According to historians, there are loads of things we used to do in the old days that we don’t do any longer,” says my editor, reading from the internet with surprise. “Why don’t you spend a day doing things like a man from the past? Maybe pick 10 activities or tasks.”
“Hiding from sabre-toothed tigers?” I suggest. “Carving rudimentary tools out of flint? Thinking fire is magic and being terrified of storms?”
“Too far back. Think late 20th century.”
Fair enough. I’m secretly pleased, actually. Much as I wanted to wear a fur bikini like Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC, reliving the recent past will be more cathartic.
You see, there are many things that as a child in the 1980s I learned to associate with adulthood: going to a bureau de change, writing a letter, getting photos developed, wearing a hat. Because I don’t get to do these things in my adult life I feel that my development has been stunted. I’m certain that if I spend a day writing about these things I’ll finally become a real grown-up.
“That’s a lot of pressure to put on one article,” says my editor. (I hadn’t realised I was saying the previous paragraph out loud.) “But sure give it a try.” I do.
1: Change money at a bureau de change
At Fexco currency conversion I can’t get lire for a forthcoming trip to Italy because of something called the euro. Things have changed for currency exchanges, Ciaran Murrin, the teller, says, because of the euro and the advent of omnipresent bank machines. Customers nowadays tend to be tourists. I panic and buy 100,000 Indonesian rupiahs (see photograph).
2: Wear a hat
My grandad had three hats: one for Mass, one for day-to-day wear and one for gardening. But I don’t even have one hat. Mary Hamill at the Hat Shop in Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre says that the writing was on the wall for universal hat use the day JFK went hatless. “Although they are coming back,” she says.
Youngsters have been buying “paper boy hats” because of The Great Gatsby and pork-pie hats like the one worn by Walter White in Breaking Bad. I always thought I’d wear hats as an adult. So I buy a trilby (“like in Mad Men”). I head into the street, where I feel people are looking at me with new respect. “You’re wearing a hat indoors like a hipster,” says a colleague back at the office, a little less respectfully.
3: Develop some photos
“Few people come to get their film developed any more,” says Sebastian Rutkowski, who works at Dublin Camera Exchange. Indeed, the only film cameras that seem to be on the market are cheap disposable ones. (I buy one.) The people who develop film with them, says Rutkowski, are students who like the look of out-of-date film, older people who have old cameras and don’t want to change, and tourists who’ve lost their real cameras.
The problem with digital photographs, he says, is that “people just snap away. They take loads of pictures and don’t think about composition.” I take some selfies in my new hat. (Pics not back at time of writing).
4: Write a letter
I decide to see to my correspondence, like men of letters did in days of yore. First I procure some writing paper, a pen and envelopes from Pat Martin at the Pen Corner, the specialist shop in Dublin. “People still send letters,” he says. “A lot of them would be older people. But letters are a lot more personal, I think.”